The most important part of a football game is the kicking game. Most coaches neglect the kicking game for many different reasons:
- Don’t think it is as important as offense and defense.
- Think that part of the game will take care of itself.
- Don’t want to spend the time teaching technique.
If you analyze it, more games are won or lost on the kicking game than any other phase. It will change the momentum of the game around in just seconds. There are approximately 54 plays of kicking game (offensively and defensively) that you can win or lose on each snap. We believe so strongly in the kicking game at Iowa State that the first part of our practice time each day is spent on the kicking game.
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Phases of the kicking game:
- Right to left
- Left to left
- Left to right OR right to left
- Deep onside (right to left OR left to right)
- Onside (right to left – left to right)
- Kick after safety
B. Kickoff Return
- Right and left
C. Punt Protection
D. Punt Return. We give our players a little added motivation; instead of punt return we call it touchdown. Make them believe they are going to score on every return.
- Touchdown at I and 9
- Touchdown Middle
- Touchdown Reverse at 9
- 60 Touchdown at I and 9
E. Punt Block
- Vs. Regular spread punt
- Vs. 9-man front
F. Field Goal and Extra Points Protection
G. Field Goal and Extra Point Block
- Regular left or right
- Oklahoma left or right
Coaching Points on Covering Kickoff
- Stay in covering lanes relative to ball, if run around, run around to right.
- Sprint full speed. If you see a blocker coming for you, break stride then turn it on again.
- If a blocker is coming straight at you, the depth of the ball determines whether you run through the blocker or use hands and go around to the right.
- Outrun cross blockers.
- If a Wedge comes straight at you, the first people must take wedge on tough.
- Sideline return – offside must know when to take cutoff angle.
- Offside end becomes last safety on sideline return.
- Outside men don’t cover beyond ball and coverage on ball from outside in.
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I will illustrate only four: Right to right (Diagram 1), Deep onside, Squib, and Onside.
Deep Onside (Diagram 2)
- This should be similar to an extra point type kick with the kicker getting great height and placing the ball on the 25-yard line. It should take one bounce. The outside man will pick it up on the first bounce and step out of bounds.
- If not successful as an onside kick:
– It eliminates returns.
– Causes receiving team to fair catch.
– Can cause fumbles.
– Used against teams that don’t protect sideline or use wedge return.
Squib Kick (Diagram 3)
- Automatic “Left” coverage.
- Kick hard, on ground and bouncing.
- Kicker and middle man of middle segment swap positions.
- Safety cover down on left hash mark.
Coaching Points on Squib Kick
- Against strong wind or in bad weather.
- When concerned with opponent’s return.
- When opponents have no middle coverage.
Onside Kick (Right to Left Coverage) (Diagram 4)
- After a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff.
Coaching Points of Onside Kick (Diagram 5)
- Kicker aligns as if kicking right to left (left to right). May move a little further right before approaching ball.
- The kicker should attempt to kick the top off the ball, driving it toward the boundary past the 50-yard line.
- The ball, if kicked properly, should take two small hops and the third one will be a large one enabling us to recover the ball on the big hop.
- The outside man on the fast side is designated as the man to recover onside kicks. Other folks covering the kick are coached to block potential receivers permitting our outside man a better opportunity of handling the kick. We also tell our blockers to use good judgement and, if the ball is right, you will recover it. Don’t wait on the designated man.
- To win game.
- After 15-yard penalty.
B. KICKOFF RETURN
Most vital mentally – to start the ball outside your 25-yard line.
You don’t necessarily need to use your starters on the return team. (Even use defensive players.) Sometimes you get better results from using reserves because you are not swapping men who might get injured during the game or season.
Kind of safety needed for return:
- Middle return.
- Right and Left return.
- Kick after safety.
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I will illustrate two: Middle and Right return.
(1) Middle Kickoff Return (Diagram 6)
Coaching Point – Center declares who the kicker is, if the ball is kicked from other than middle.
(2) Right Return Kickoff (Diagram 7)
Count your man from the right sideline over.
- RHB – Block No. 2 in with X – if end handles lead ball carrier. Ball to you, safety leads you through hole.
- FB – Kick No. 1 out – key ball.
- LBH – Protect safety and lead through hole – ball to you, safety leads you.
- S – Receive ball – start up middle then take it to right with HB leading.
- LG – Cut No. 6 down, then peel around and help the lane.
C. PUNT PROTECTION
- Must protect to cover.
- Might need to change personnel (if one is slow or doesn’t protect well).
- Must have good snap first.
Up Position – Elbows on knees – must point out man!!
- Center – No. 0
- Up Back – No. 1
- Gs – No. 2
- Ts – No. 3
- Es – No. 4
When sure of man, be aggressive. When blocking zone, use pass protection.
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Guard begins calls:
- No. 1 call – I will block man on or outside.
- No. 2 call – I am blocking inside turnout man on head of guard 3 men outside no one inside gap.
- No. 1 Stack – Guard is telling upback he is taking inside rusher of stack.
- No. 2 Stack – Guard and tackle taking stack.
- Center – Can be called to aid on either side. Good snap first.
D. PUNT RETURNS
We gave our players a little added motivation – instead of punt return, we call it touchdown. Make the players believe that they are going to score on every return.
- Work on return and protection daily. More than field goals and extra points. Approximately 12 Punts in a game.
- Squad is schooled that defense can score more ways than on offense. One of these methods is the punt return.
- Our punt return is a good one for five reasons:
– We know it and have perfected it by learning from our mistakes.
– Work religiously on the return daily at the beginning of practice.
– Excellent safety men.
– Coaches and players believe in it to the point we think we will return every one for a touchdown. Also the fans!
– Concealment in alignment.
The main factor of success in any phase of football is confidence and work.
- Our Punt Return is no better than others used. In fact, many of you probably have better ones.
– Our alignment isn’t the answer.
- Defense practice begins with punt return.
– Can keep them after practice.
– Never practice return live.
– Remember the Don’ts: Don’t be offside. Don’t rough the kicker. Don’t clip. Don’t let the ball touch the ground.
Setting up a return:
- If you are assigned a man on the line before the ball is kicked, unload on him and maintain contact as long as you can with him while he is on the line.
- You must sprint to get to the alley.
- Space yourself about five yards from the man next to you in the alley.
- When you have reached your spot in the alley, turn back toward the inside so that you can see the pursuit from the kicking team. Stay in the wall; let ’em come to you. (Don’t leave the wall.)
- Don’t let anyone come between you and the man next to you. Four or five good blocks will get you defensive points.
Games we won at Iowa State because of Punt Returns were Buffalo (1968), BYU (1968), Kansas State (1968), Kansas (1969; Big 8 record – 96 yards) and Missouri (1971; busted game open).
I will illustrate three: Touchdown at I, Touchdown Reverse at 9, and 60 Touchdown at I or 9.
(1) Touchdown at I (Diagram 9)
- RLB – Hold – Force end outside – Set wall.
- RE – Hold – Force man inside – Get in wall.
- RT – Hold – Force center inside – Get in wall.
- LT – Rush kick – Get in wall.
- LE – Rush kick – Clean up behind wall – Look for punter.
- MLB – Block up back away from return – Get in wall.
- LLB – Block up back away from return – Get in wall.
- Monster – Time block – Kick end man out.
- RHB – Field short punt – Block first man up to inside.
- LHB – Field short punt – Personal protector – or lead safety to wall.
- Safety – Field Punt – First two steps straight ahead if possible.
- GET TO WALL – Give ground if necessary but you must get to the wall.
(2) Touchdown Reverse at 9
(3) 60 Touchdown at I or 9
Secondary Normal Return
- Ends and Tackles – Same assignments regular return I or 9.
- LBs, M – Play LB until ball is kicked, then same as regular return I or 9.
- HBs, S – Same as regular return I or 9.
– Used anytime we need a return and there is a threat of a fake punt.
Unexpected Punt Formation
- Go to automatic defend punt return I. Example: Opponent is on third-and-long. Align in punt formation.
- Automatic return I.
- Automatic return I vs. quick kick.
Regular Defense vs. Punt Formation
- Play defense called (used in the last minutes of a game when we are ahead and don’t want a return).
E. Punt Block
- Desire and personal effort.
- Third down punt blocked or partially.
- Fourth down punt blocked or 5-year senior fell on ball vs. Texas Tech.
Rules of Kicking Game:
- Don’t be offside.
- Don’t rough kicker.
- Don’t clip.
- Don’t let the ball hit the ground.
Requirements for Blocking Kicks:
- Watch the ball.
- Cause a bad snap.
- Speed and quickness.
- Proper point of rush.
- Eyes on the ball.
- Lay out flat.
- Thumbs together, put hands on the ball.
- Practice – Practice – Practice.
Blocking a Kick
- Blocking a kick is mostly the desire to block the kick.
- Go to a spot four yards in front of the kicker and not straight at him.
- If you don’t block the kick, do everything in your power to keep from hitting the kicker. (You don’t want a penalty.)
- If you are to block the punt, you must extend your hands, arms, and body at a 45 degree angle to the ground, NOT STRAIGHT UP IN THE AIR!!! (Diagram 11A)
- If we block a kick on any down except fourth down, fall on it. On fourth down, scoop it up and run with it, it is our ball anyway.
I will illustrate these two: Regular Speed and 9-Man Front.
(1) Punt Block vs. Speed Front (Diagram 12)
- Automatic return at one.
- Spot to block punt 1 ½ yards in front of kicker’s foot.
- When you don’t have a chance to block punt, roll right for return.
- Remember the Don’ts:
– Don’t be offside.
– Don’t rough the kicker.
– Don’t clip.
– Don’t let the ball touch the ground.
(2) Punt Block vs. 9-Man Front (Diagram 13)
F. FIELD GOAL & EXTRA POINT PROTECTION
- Use of big people to protect.
- Broad base.
- Hold ground.
- Holder – kicker relationship.
I will illustrate the following three: Field Goal and Extra Point Protection, Fire, and Fake.
Extra Point – Field Goal (Diagram 14)
- Linemen – 6″ Splits, pre-shift position.
- Upbacks – 1 yard and 1 yard, 45 degree angle.
- Holder – 7 yards deep.
- C – Snap football. Be big.
- Gs-Ts-Es – Protect inside. Never move outside foot. Put hand on hip.
- Wing Men – Protect inside first. Inside foot solid.
Field Goal Coverage – Spread out and cover the field on the sound of the kick. “Fire” – Holder yells “fire” on bad snap or fumbled hold.
- Ends release to flag.
- Upback release to flat.
- Lineman scrambles to outside, staying behind line of scrimmage.
Fake Field Goal Right (Diagram 15)
- Kicker enters the huddle and calls: “Fake Field Goal Right”
- Never leave the huddle if not sure what was called.
- Line: Reaches right.
- RG: Pulls and hook first man outside.
- L. Upback: Protect backside.
- R. Upback: Sprint inside release to flag.
- Z: Block 2 counts and slide to flat.
- Kicker: Fill area of pulling guard.
- QB: Receive ball and roll out, losing a little ground. Run first, pass second. If receiver is wide open, throw.
G. FIELD GOAL AND EXTRA POINT BLOCK
- Spot to block the kick, 1 ½ yards in front of the kicker’s foot.
- Backs play for everything but the kick.
- End away from block responsible to field blocked kick.
I will illustrate three: Regular (Diagram 16), Middle (Diagram 17), and Oklahoma (Diagram 18).
Momentum wins games and the kicking game is the best momentum changer. You win on the kicking game.
This article was written while Coach Majors was at Iowa State and first published in the 1972 AFCA Proceedings Manual.
Johnny Majors was the head coach at Iowa State University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Tennessee. His college head coaching record is 185-137-10, which includes one National Championship (1976) and three SEC championships (1985, 1989, 1990). He received several Coach of the Year awards while he was coaching, including: AFCA Coach of the Year (1976), SEC Coach of the Year (1985) and Walter Camp Coach of the Year (1973). Majors was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1987. He retired from coaching following the 1996 season.